Irish in America
America is a melting pot of different cultures, religions, ideas and identities, a country which over the years has been molded, shaped and changed by its people. There are many historical factors that gone into creating the country as we know it today, but none so influential as the immigration of millions to “the land of opportunity”. The millions of people who came to the United States in hopes of finding a better life greatly affected the course of American history, bring the the country new cultures, customs and beliefs . Irish-Catholic immigrants, “. . . the first great ethnic ‘minority’ in American cities,”(1) had a substantial influence on the industrialization, labor movement and politics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In the beginning, life was not easy for the numerous Irish - Catholic immigrants who fled the Great Potato Famine of 1845 and, “. . . Protestant ascendancy, British colonialism and turbulence in their own country. . . “(2) Because of their lack of funds many Irish immigrants landed in less expensive Canadian ports, and then walked down into the United States.(3) Not only was the ocean voyage difficult, but once reaching the United States, most immigrants found that they were not welcomed with open arms, but rather pushed away because of their religious affiliations. Catholics found themselves the minority and targets of discrimination.(4) Settled Americans saw the new influx of Irish immigrants as a plague, dirtying their streets and neighborhoods, filling their jails and sanitariums, creating public disruption. “Negative stereotypes imported from England characterizing the Irish as pugnacious, drunken, semi-savage, were common and endured. . . “(5) After arriving in America, most Irish immigrants settled in the ports where they had landed, most often in Boston and New York. They had no money to push West and did not have the knowledge and skill to undertake large scale farming in the South.(6) Settling in the urban areas caused great crowding of the cities. The native inhabitants quickly chose to move out of the neighborhoods newly settled by Irish immigrants.(7) Their movement was influenced by the poverty of the newcomers; they did not want to live amongst the immigrant’s squalor. However, the Irish took this unwelcoming behavior in stride,they, “ . . . had a sense of identity and cohesion as a people oppressed by foreigners in their native land,”(8) which helped them to stay together during the rough transition to American life. Irish-Catholics lived in the slums,often cramming 4 families into a 1 family apartment. “Although the basement, attic and tar paper urban dwellings were bleak and depressing, at least American cities provided the company of their own misery-sharing people.”(9) Irish-Catholics depended greatly on their community and so it was a great relief to have support groups in their new home, even if the quality of life was extremely low.